03/02/2005, 00.00
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SARS victims demand compensation from government

In an open letter to the mayor of Beijing, victims blast the authorities for the effects of their medical treatment. Many now suffer from bone degeneration, have disabilities and are jobless.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 100 SARS victims in Beijing are asking the government to compensate them for ailments caused by the medical treatment they received two years ago.

They did so yesterday in an open letter sent to the mayor of Beijing in which they blast official indifference to their plight nearly two years after the deadly outbreak.

They complain of continued ailments, including bone degeneration that has made walking difficult for some and forced us into a wheelchair. The steroid treatment they received to overcome SARS is responsible for their current predicament.

"The government has the responsibility, the duty and the means to provide SARS victims with substantial compensation," the letter says. "Several of us have lost our jobs, and many have been recognised as being handicapped."

The letter was signed by 112 people and addressed to Mayor Wang Qishan. A 15-member delegation was supposed to hand it over but was unable to deliver it to the mayor himself.

Police prevented foreign journalists from talking to the group.

Many of the capital's SARS victims not only have to live with the painful after-effects of the disease, but have suffered serious financial blows as well.

A three-month treatment for bone degeneration costs 10,000 yuan (about € 1,000), but for most patients one treatment is not enough.

The letter explains that for the worse cases—those already wheelchair-bound—tan artificial joint (expected to last ten years) is necessary but it can cost as much as 70,000 yuan.

If one considers that patients bear health care costs and that the average annual income in Beijing is 20,000 yuan, it becomes clear that for all but a few the situation is catastrophic.

SARS broke out in November 2002 in the southern province of Guangdong, but the authorities waited till April of the following year before officially declaring it.

Because of government's silence, SARS spread to 30 other countries around the world infecting some 30,000 people, killing 774. In China alone, 5,300 people were infected, 349 of whom died.

The authorities announced in June 2003 that the outbreak was over; however, new cases appeared in April and May 2004.

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